The Bond team this year produced and released Skyfall, the 23rd entry in the official EON series (and yes, I am one of those people who consider the EON films the only official ones), and the 25th overall (taking into account Never Say Never Again and the spoof version of Casino Royale). Given the year, it was the 50th anniversary of the franchise, the failure of Quantum of Solace before it, and the delay from MGM’s bankruptcy in 2009, it had nearly the perfect environment in which to be released. The hell you say?
Let me explain: the 50th anniversary alone gets people like me to the theater, and casual fans will give it a passing shot. Historically, Bond films coming out of delays and/or bad immediate predecessors, are better than ones that are rushed, especially since bad outings give the team pause to rethink their strategies.
The critics solid reviews before the film was released gave me hope, but I left it at the door when I saw the film. I did not want expectations to mess up my enjoyment of the film. I could be critical of it later on, but given the current (and seemingly continually rising) costs of movie tickets, I don’t like to mess up my own movie-going experience, especially given some idiot tends to bring their kids to the theater, and the damn kids won’t shut up; or somebody keeps talking, just blah, blah, blah, and it annoys the hell out of you.
Anyway, back to the film. With solid reviews, I got my tickets in advance, and dared to see the midnight screening. It was a good choice, since the theater was relatively empty, and I felt more comfortable. After ten trailers and three more ads, the film finally started.
When I left the theater, I was stunned. It wasn’t just the plot twists, it wasn’t the breaking from tradition; it was that the film was so good. It took the franchise in a different direction that I had seen coming, even with the threat of Skyfall’s trailers accidently spilling some plot points. As entertainment goes, the film blew me away. In my opinion (my dad differed on several key points), I didn’t think the film lagged, I loved the new characters, and I thought the last five minutes of the film was brilliantly executed.
What stands out about the film, though, is that while it has the women (albeit no front and center Bond lady like films past), customary explosions, and action sequences, it is arguably the most intimate portrait of James Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and tops it in that department. It explores his past, his relationship with M and MI6 in general, and drives home the point that he is human. The decision, in line with Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond, pays dividends very quickly, because we see Bond’s devotion to his duty, but also his desire to get away. We also see Bond working in concert with MI6, the first real time we see him as a team player, rather than just being a lone wolf on the hunt. Of course, M eventually sends him off to do just that because it is Bond’s nature.
Daniel Craig is superb, and Judi Dench deserves a ton of roses for her performance, but the film is built on its supporting actors, and unlike Bond films past, there are substantially fewer in this one, which makes the roles all the more important. Ben Whishaw is well cast as Q, who makes his first appearance count, by matching witticisms with Bond; he is played as a child of the 90’s who became a tech expert, and who probably got the job by breaking into MI6’s computers. Ralph Fiennes is incredible, as he has to play coy with the direction his character will take early on in the film, and doesn’t give anything away; that development, from elected bureaucrat to true ally, not to mention it’s the first time I’ve seen him play a good guy, made his performance all the more better for me. Naomie Harris, like Ralph Fiennes, plays coy about her character’s general direction, but works it well, allowing her to develop in such a fashion that, even if her character’s arc at the end doesn’t make 100% sense, still is believable. If I failed to discuss Albert Finney, I’d have to pay a fine; in all seriousness, his part (small but vital) is what makes the last quarter of the film work, and his delivery is, as ever, brilliant. The other supporting characters (who in a sense support the rest of cast) are all played quite well, and as a result we see the trials and tribulations surrounding the characters with a clear eye; it is controlled chaos, in the midst of uncertain times, but there is a purpose to it.
However, the real scene stealer is Javiar Bardem, who has arguably the greatest entrance of a Bond villain since Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice; director Sam Mendes (whose presence is felt throughout the film) actually built the set it was shot on to accommodate and accentuate Silva’s entrance, complete with a three minute monologue that explains, albeit indirectly, the villain’s background. He is truly the dark side of Bond (thus befitting Ian Fleming’s ideal villain), and just as Bond is given an intimate portrayal in Skyfall, Silva’s goals are similarly intimate, although to say anymore would be releasing spoilers. Actors usually do not get Oscar nominations for Bond roles, but Barden should at least get consideration; it is easily his best performance since No Country For Old Men.
It is not a perfect film; there are parts that could have been tightened up in the editing room, and some plot turns do not make a lot of sense, but on the whole the film is great, and compensates for those errors. However, what this film does is open the door for the franchise to, after three films in the rebooted series, return to the classic Bond formula, if the producers want to. It also reinforces why Craig’s Bond is so good. You couldn’t imagine Bond as portrayed by either Connery or Moore as being wounded and hurt, but Craig is good enough, and the script sets it up well, to pull it off. Onto the next one!
My rating: A